If you’ve ever gotten product recommendations on Amazon, you’ve seen Danny Lange’s handiwork. The same goes for Uber’s AI that books you a ride. The Danish computer scientist helped build the machine learning platforms that both companies use throughout their operations, from the engineering to the marketing departments. Lange has just done the same at video game platform maker Unity, with the goal of evolving robo characters into more complex and nuanced playing companions than a human could program.
Lange doesn’t shy away from the oft-hyped term “artificial intelligence”— provided the machines really do learn how to respond to users’ needs. But he’s skeptical of prospects for so-called artificial general intelligence, or AGI—the Westworld-style vision of a synthetic consciousness. Lange has equally strong views on what does not count as intelligent, such as Alexa and Siri, which follow scripts written by humans, rather than thinking for themselves. Lange should know: He lead the design GM’s OnStar, the first widespread computerized assistant, way back in the late 1990s.
Fast Company spoke with Lange about nuances between real and phony AI, misunderstandings in pop culture, and the prospect of a robot uprising. He also described emerging technologies such as adversarial networks—a battle of wits between AIs that forces each to get smarter. What follows are highlights from a longer conversation.
Fast Company: Can you define artificial intelligence? Is it even definable?
Danny Lange: To me, there are two key aspects. One is external, and one is internal. So the external one is really…